Mizzou's Sam is gay, team didn't talk, why do we?

Column: RICK SOLEM
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This should be the last time this is a story. It should be, but it won’t.

It's always big news when an athlete comes out.

I can’t wait until it’s not. I can’t wait until sexual preference is not a story – in sports, in government, anywhere, except, perhaps, the bedroom.

This weekend, Missouri All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam announced he was gay.

Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) reacts after a play against Oklahoma State.Here’s why it’s not news: “I told my teammates this past August,” Sam told ESPN’s Chirs Connelly. “I was kind of scared, even though they already knew. Their reaction was awesome.”

He told his team six months ago and nobody needed to alert anyone their teammate was gay – not the media, not the dean, nobody. Also, his team already knew. Did they care? No. And neither should we.

Sports – or maybe the media – lives in this culture where we think this is news. And there are probably sheltered places where gay people have to hide. Sam is setting an example for those places. There’s the one and only reason this should be news.

After that, we shouldn’t care.

Sam is the first athlete heading into his professional career openly gay. Awesome. Let’s all move on.

The bigger story here is who Sam is, not who Sam likes.

“Telling someone, ‘Hey, I’m gay,’ it shouldn’t be a big problem,” he said. “Seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound or not knowing my older sister died as a baby and I never got a chance to meet her … my other two brothers being in and out of jail since eighth grade and are currently in jail … Telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that.” 

There’s your story. There’s your national news. A 24-year-old ‘makes it’ out of Hitchcock, Tex. – 40 miles outside of Houston – overcomes adversity and finds himself a solid NFL prospect that can play multiple positions.

Instead, the story is: He’s gay.

It’s great he has the courage to set an example for the rest of those that feel the need to come out to their teams or co-workers or whoever. For those who need to feel comfortable being who they are by pointing to him.

Hopefully this can help everyone see that we’re a society that doesn’t care about sexual orientation, like his teammates did. It’s 2014, we’re over sexual preference.

I had one problem with the interview. Connelly asked Sam, "When did you realize what your sexual orientation was?"

The question is so ridiculous to me.

Sam answered it calmly, because he most likely knew the question was coming, but it’s almost like he was asked, “When did you know you were different?”

It seems insulting. The only way I see how that’s relevant is if Sam wants to talk about the hardships that go with hiding who you are, but he didn’t talk much about his childhood, because, as kids, do we really think about sexual orientation?

“I knew from a young age I was attracted to guys,” he said. “Growing up I didn't know if it was a phase or ... it was just, I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. I didn’t tell anyone growing up.

“It’s kind of confusing. I wanted to make sure to find who I am and now that I know I am gay, I’m comfortable in my skin. I wanted to define who I am.”

He then goes on to talk about his siblings’ hardships, which makes being gay so irrelevant.

I just can’t get over the question. Think about asking anyone that question.

Why don’t we ask LeBron James, “When did you like girls?” or “When did you know you were black?”

If someone asked me when I knew my sexual orientation, I would say, “I have no idea. I never thought about it.”

And maybe Sam had to think about it growing up, but he said it, he had bigger things to worry about.

I understand this is a big step, because no athlete coming into their career has come out, but, also, I think most of society has grown up to accept most things.

Athletes have been slowly showing who they are – or who they like – culminating, before Sam, with Jason Collins.

Collins, 35, is an NBA journeyman center at the end of his career. He came out last April and isn’t currently on an NBA team. He wasn’t signed by a team until late November last season, when he played just 38 games and averaged 1 point and 1.5 rebounds.

He’s not on a team because he’s of little use to a team. He’s been known to be a great leader, a great locker room guy, but he’s really of little use on the court. That said, he’ll likely latch onto a team for a playoff run.

I really thought he would be on a team simply because he came out, simply because he would be great public relations and help set this example that has now been taken over by Sam.

The talk with Sam now is his draft stock and whether this ‘news’ will hurt it. It’s hilarious, because it’s irrelevant.

Relating to that, however, are questions stirring on whether Collins not being on a team this season is a result of his coming out. The only way I could see that happening is because crotchety old men own sports teams. Because if there is anyone out there that’s homophobic, it’s old men.

When we discussed Minnesota legalizing gay marriage on our call-in show, La Crosse Talk PM, on WIZM 1410 AM last summer, the majority of callers were old men fearing, and I quote one caller, “the end is near.”

It was a very odd and quite uncomfortable listening to men who had never called in before, flood the phone lines.

And that’s a good thing … that it was uncomfortable, because that’s where we should be at as a society - one that’s uncomfortable with the people that are still homophobic or racist.

We’re finally, albeit slowly, opening up.

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